Pope Benedict on the Spiritual Battle That Is Lent

At its core, temptation is always meant to exploit God for some lowly end, the Holy Father explains in his second to last Angelus address Feb. 17.

An Italian pilgrim expresses his sentiments to Pope Benedict following the Feb. 17 Angelus in St. Peter's Square.
An Italian pilgrim expresses his sentiments to Pope Benedict following the Feb. 17 Angelus in St. Peter's Square. (photo: Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI used his penultimate Angelus address Feb. 17 to tell the throng of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square that Lent is a “spiritual battle.”

Lent, he said, “always involves a battle, a spiritual battle, because the spirit of evil naturally opposes our sanctification and seeks to divert us from the way of God.”

Pope Benedict has just 11 days left as spiritual leader of the Church until his almost unprecedented resignation takes effect Feb. 28. More than 35,000 people have registered with the pontifical household to officially bid him farewell.

The Holy Father, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, explained that the Lenten “spiritual battle” is the reason why the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent relates each year to Jesus’ temptations in the desert.

He reflected on the Sunday Gospel, which tells how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil after having received the Holy Spirit in his baptism at the Jordan River.

“Upon starting his public ministry, Jesus had to expose and reject the false images of the Messiah that the tempter proposed,” said the Pope.

“But these temptations are false images of man, and during all times undermine the conscience, disguised and proposed as affordable, effective and even good,” he added.

Pope Benedict said the evangelists Matthew and Luke reveal three temptations of Jesus, but differ only in the order in which they present them.

He said the core of these temptations is always to exploit God for some lowly ends, giving more importance to success or to material goods.

“The tempter is sneaky; he does not go directly to evil, but to a false good, making one believe that the true reality is power and that this meets one’s basic needs,” said Benedict.

“God becomes secondary in this way; [he] ultimately becomes unreal because he no longer matters and thus vanishes,” he added. 

Pope Benedict said that faith is what is ultimately at stake in temptations because God is at stake.

“But in hindsight we are at crossroads — do we want to follow the I or God? The individual interest or the real good and what is really good?” the Holy Father said.

“As the Fathers of the Church teach us, temptations are part of the ‘descent’ of Jesus in our human condition and in the abyss of sin as well as of its consequences,” he said.

He explained that Jesus is “the hand that God has tended to man, the lost sheep, to bring him back to safety.”

Benedict added we do not have to fear facing the fight against the spirit of evil since “Jesus took our temptations to give us his victory.”

“The important thing is that we do this with him, with the Victor,” said the Pope.

Pope Benedict said Lent is a time of “conversion and penance” and a “favorable time to rediscover faith in God as the criterion of our life and the life of the Church.”

“The Church, which is mother and teacher, calls all her members to be renewed in the spirit, to reorient closely to God, denying pride and selfishness in order to live in love,” he said.

In greeting the pilgrims in different languages, he told the Italians their attendance in such large numbers is “a sign of affection and spiritual closeness that I have been shown these days.”

On Feb. 17, Pope Benedict was scheduled to take part in spiritual exercises with members of the Curia at 6pm local time in the Apostolic Palace. The retreat will finish on Feb. 23. For this reason, he has no appointments scheduled this week, and he will not hold his weekly general audience on Feb. 20.